18 December 2014

$100K for Swearing at the Cops!

Anyone who has bothered to take a look at some of my older postings will know that a favorite topic of mine is getting arrested for swearing in public. It is well established that free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution protect even vulgar speech like swearing. As a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out in an article about an Atlanta woman who was arrested for swearing at the police:
“Ms. Barnes’ comments to the police may have been offensive, but no one in the United States of America should be chased down and arrested for their free speech,” said lawyer Cynthia Counts, who represented Barnes in her civil and criminal litigation. “The officers argued that it was a bad neighborhood and you shouldn’t disrespect the police because it could create issues,” she added.
Counts noted federal courts had overuled such reasoning after 1918 sedition laws made “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the U.S. government, flag or armed forces — or that caused people to view government institutions with contempt — a felony.
These are losers for cities and counties. In this instance, Cobb County settled out of court with this potty mouth for $100,000!! Hopefully, in the future Cobb County will train its police officers to ignore offensive speech directed at them.

11 December 2014

Getting a Hearing Before the Supreme Court: Only for Elites?

This week Reuters published a special report about the lawyers who get their cases heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. Their conclusion: if you want to access the Supreme Court you had better hire one of the 66 lawyers who seem to repeatedly be granted access to the Court. Part one of the report is entitled "A cadre of well-connected attorneys has honed the art of getting the Supreme Court to take up cases - and business is capitalizing on their expertise," which should give you an idea of the point the report is trying to make. The report is rather long but will give students a very good understanding of the process of having a case heard before America's highest court.

09 December 2014

The Power to Declare War

When was the last time the United States formally declared war on another country?

Students in my American Law courses (at least the ones who have already completed the Introduction Course) know the answer to this, and understand that the U.S. Constitution is a bit confusing when it comes to the question of when the President can send the military oversees to engage in battle.

Article I of the Constitution clearly give the Congress the power to declare war, however the President is Commander-in-Chief of the military and charged with defending the interests of the country. Custom plays an enormous role in this question, and arguably it has become custom to allow the President to commit troops oversees without a formal declaration of war, as this recent post on the National Constitution Center's blog clearly illustrates. 

28 November 2014

California Governor Criticized for Judical Appointments

California's Governor Jerry Brown has now appointed three judges to the California Supreme Court, and as this editorial at SFGate notes, none of them have judicial experience. The writer of the editorial thinks that's a problem. Read the rest of it to find out why.

24 November 2014

Divided Government and the Appointment of Supreme Court Justices

By now, students in all three of my courses are familiar with how vacancies on the United States Supreme Court are filled. And those of my students who have been paying attention to developments in the United States realize that Republicans will soon be taking control of the United States Senate, the body charged with approving the President's nominees to the Supreme Court. Lyle Denniston has an interesting post on the National Constitution Center website explaining who likely it would for a nominee of President Obama's to get through the hostile Senate.

22 November 2014

How Presidents Have Used Their Veto Power

While we have not expressly discussed the President's veto power in my courses this semester, this power does fit into the general discussion we have had concerning American government, and at least someone in one of my courses was curious enough about this power to ask whether the President can exercise this power for any reason, or only when he feels the bill he is being asked to sign violates the Constitution. I recently came across a short and informative blog post on the National Constitution Center's blog that anyone interested in the President's veto power should read.

14 November 2014

Nevada Gets an Appeals Court

The AP reports that Nevada is joining the 40 other states that have an intermediate level appeals court. To be honest, I'm amazed there are that many states without an appeals court. Anyway, the article points out why not having an intermediate level appeals court can cause problems:
That meant that every appeal from each of the state's 82 district courts - death penalty convictions, medical malpractice judgments, prison food complaints, administrative hearing reviews, driver's license revocations - had to be heard by a very busy seven-member Nevada Supreme Court.
The article goes on to note that last year the Supreme Court rendered about 2,300 rulings!

13 November 2014

Americans Don't Trust Their Courts

At least that is what Francis Barry argues in a recent Bloomberg News piece. Barry argues that the increasing number of amendments to state constitutions show a growing distrust of the judiciary. To understand why, give this short piece a read.

10 November 2014

Time for a change?

A recent Billings Gazette editorial points out the problems with open elections for judges in this era of outside groups spending unlimited money on trying to influence elections. The editorial also points out two other ways that states select judges, which might be more appropriate for Montana. The editorial is short and very informative.

06 November 2014

Judge Retains Seat

From the Associated Press: a day after elections an Illinois Supreme Court Justice appears to have retained his seat. This is a wonderful opportunity to review how some judges in the United States are selected. Here is what the AP had to say:
ST. LOUIS — An Illinois Supreme Court justice targeted for ouster by plaintiffs' attorneys who spent more than $1 million publicly characterizing him as partial to corporate interests appears to have retained his seat, which he won a decade ago in a race that set national spending records.
With more than 99 percent of Tuesday's votes counted, Lloyd Karmeier finished less than 1 percentage point above the 60 percent threshold he needed for retention. Several of the 37 southernmost Illinois counties making up Karmeier's district still were counting absentee and provisional ballots Wednesday.
Just from these two paragraphs we can tell a few things about how Supreme Court Justices are keep their seats in Illinois. While we cannot tell how they are actually selected (whether the governor does the selecting or some kind of committee), we can tell that each Justice must face a retention vote, and in order to survive the vote the judge must obtain a super majority of 60% of the vote. We can also tell that Justices on the Illinois Supreme Court apparently represent only a part of the state. This likely is meant to ensure that the Court is made up of Justices from throughout the entire state.

To review: some judges must face retention votes when their term expires. A retention vote is nothing more than having the name of the judge on the ballot with a "Yes" or "No" answer to the question of whether the judge should be retained. In Illinois a judge must get 60% yes votes in order to keep his or her seat. Remember, not all retention votes run this way. Each state can have their own system.